Maria was an ordinary chicken. Maria was an extraordinary chicken.
Maria laid a lot of eggs like any good hen. She lay mondo eggs and would take some time to go about this.
Unlike Gretel and Leisel who quietly and quickly laid their eggs on the straw in their egg boxes early every morning, she chose to lay them out of the safety of her run and in the “wild” when they were let out to free range. She would often be gone for more than an hour.
Busy with our raspberry farm, it took a dedicated summer visitor Chris to hunt for and find Maria’s secret nest. Once a cache was discovered she would find a new spot and start over.
Very much unlike Leisel and Gretel, who craved attention, Maria shunned the paparazzi.
Unlike Gretel and Leisel, Maria would not and could not be picked up and was proud of this. She was standoffish and very, very large.
Gretel and Leisel, although conformists and social media early adopters did understand a key chicken survival lesson, there is safety in numbers. Free ranging comes with risks which were lessened by our rows upon rows of raspberry canes providing cover and making predator swoop attacks difficult and by having a pal to call an alert.
When we returned from the farmer’s market and checked on the girls, a small pile of fluffy breast feathers in one of the yard’s few open spots was all that was left of Maria. A hawk or an eagle are the most likely culprits that permanently solved a lovely problem like Maria.
Survived by her occasional friends Gretel and Liesel and greatly mourned by her human friends, Maria will be missed although her eggs won’t be as we could rarely find them. Maria was an ordinary chicken, Maria was an extraordinary chicken.
“October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!”
― Rainbow Rowell, Attachments
The next act of the English Channel swim relay team, the Crazy Canucks is a swim that is comparable in length , conditions, difficulty and challenge and all a bit closer to home. The Crazy Canucks are taking on the Catalina Island Channel on lucky Friday, September 13, 2019.
First swum in 1927, on the heels of the intense publicity from Gertrude Ederle’s swim of the English Channel in 1926, Catalina also has a long and storied history in marathon swimming history and brings with it its own set of unique challenges that make it a worthy goal to be respected and tackled with solid preparation. Our swim will be overseen by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, our pilot boat the Bottomscratcher could not have a better name and our main kayak guide is my brother Dean Dogherty, who competes internationally in outrigger canoes.
We are going for a record that we are keeping on the down low at the moment but it could add to the fun of the achievement.
Four English Channel team veterans will be joined by two new swimmers to make up the team of six.
The challenges of cold water, high winds and waves we faced in the English Channel, the seasickness that struck down half our team to varying degrees from violent to mild and stings from jellyfish are all Catalina possibilities. In addition we face two more. The Pacific Ocean swim starts at near midnight to avoid the winds that kick up in the afternoons. Pitch black conditions can bring on vertigo as the black sea and sky merge together to cause confusion and add to the stress of swimming in a large ocean. On the plus side, many swimmers report swimming through magical bioluminescence. The other factor involving sea life with many sharp teeth is not to be mentioned by name….Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldermort. The positive side of this equation are dolphins which will all be on the look-out for.
Here are thoughts from the team as we prepare.
“I’ve swum my whole life and I enjoy it most when I’m in shape and feel powerful in the water…Open water is interesting to me because I grew up on the ocean (Prince Rupert) and always feel it’s a bit mysterious. I don’t really fear the ocean but am always curious about it. Swimming in some ways allows me to become closer to nature.”
“The epic nature of the swim and doing it as a team appeal the most. I am not super keen about swimming at night (me neither) and I’m going to have to put images of sharks and squid lurking below out of my mind!” (Guess he didn’t get the memo re that which shall not be named.)
“I am very happy about the English Channel swim and how everything worked for us so well. Of course I am very proud to have been the “finisher” that touched France. Having done that channel I know we will also do Catalina the same way with a very competent group.”
“I swim three to four times a week year-round,” says Chris. “I spent all my summers in Quebec and played in the water for hours a day. Open water is just a return to the joys of those childhood times for me.”
As for the challenge ahead, Chris says, “Swimming in the dark and the unknown potential for larger “fish” ups the excitement.” (See, he got the memo…)
As for the English Channel, Chris says he has nothing but fond memories. The only thing he would change is his approach to dealing with the nausea.
Chris is preparing by swimming four times a week and working up to cold water swims in the spring as well as some night swims and increasing his distances as our swim draws near.
“I like the feeling of moving through the water both in the pool and in the lake. I believe in balance in life – swimming is part of that balance. Open water swimming is freeing and meditative – I can find my zen. I lose all that life throws at me when I’m in the water…so freeing.”
Janet’s approach is to try to minimize the build up talk as this makes her nervous.
“Night swimming will be very important to the success of the swim so I think we should plan a swim camp with that as a focus.
“I am proud to have done the English Channel. I had to dig deep quite a few times to reach the group goal. I wasn’t going to let the group down. I will take everything from the English Channel to Catalina, except, hopefully, the sea sickness. Who knew I would consider doing either the Channel or Catalina. Butterflies reign supreme as well as deep breaths.”
As idea originator and the team captain of both swims I am fully in. For me it’s all about something I love doing more than anything else, talking five and now seven people into joining in on the adventure and working toward a crazy goal that will change our lives or at the very least give us some pretty unique experiences.
In water, all is possible. As T.H. White says, “There is practically no difference between flying in the water and flying in the air…It is like the dreams people have.” When you swim, you feel your body for what it mostly is – water. When you enter the water you dive through the surface into a new world. You are in nature, part of it, in a far more complete and intense way than on dry land. To get that feeling utterly and completely you need to be in a river, lake or the ocean.
The swimming training is important, sure. The mental training of swimming in cold water, in the waves and wind and at night are the most important. My training goals are to be prepared physically and mentally tough.
I am also beyond proud to swim with this team which comprises four long-time friends, my cousin Peter who is a Canuck( but lives most of the year in Australia) and embodies for me my dad’s spirit and a new enthusiastic swim pal Janice who is up for anything. Making the team even more special is my brother Dean who will be beside us in that big ocean in a kayak making it feel a little less big. We will swim between the Bottomscratcher and the kayak which will both be lighted to keep us on track in the pitch black.
“I love to swim in open water because I find it both relaxing and challenging. Swimming to me is like walking, you don’t have to think about it. The challenge comes to get faster and add some distance. There is such a great freedom and being close to nature when you swim in open water plus I REALLY DON’T LIKE FLIP TURNS! I didn’t swim competitively as a young person but I have embraced swimming as an adult. I even became a lifeguard at age 51.”
Jan says she is looking forward to meeting her new team mates. “I think it’s going to be amazing to swim in the ocean at night (maybe even scary) but that is part of the challenge. I am really hoping not to get sea sick during my leg of the race.”
She is a firm proponent of our post-swim tradition of doing in-water handstands and sharing liquorice on shore.
Peter, who swims every day, has spent this past summer taking dips in Elk Lake in Victoria, Lake Ontario in Toronto and Lake Rosseau in Muskoka. “In Australia, I get to swim in the ocean a lot which is really fantastic, conditions are different every day. Variety is fantastic.
“I am looking forward to meeting all the team members and their families, taking the boat to Catalina, where I’ve never been before and of course the swim itself. I’m maybe a little nervous about the temperature of the water.”
The English Channel and Catalina Channel are two of the marathon swims that make up the triple crown of swimming. The third is the swim around Manhattan. There are fewer than 200 relay teams that have swum Catalina and even fewer than that 200 number that have swum the English Channel.
The aromas of pears poaching in fresh orange juice, orange zest, vanilla beans, Chardonnay and just-picked Naramata pears smells like fall preserving at its best. Add in the ginger and cinnamon scents coming from the gingerbread in the oven and you have an irresistible combination.
This poached pear recipe uses 24 pears and makes four freezer bags worth of desserts that can be thawed, warmed and served with my gingerbread, a sponge cake, or with sweetened mascarpone cheese, candied almonds, over ice cream or simply on its own.
Vanilla Naramata pears in orange wine syrup
24 small to medium just-ripe pears
4 cups (1 litre) Singletree Chardonnay or a dry, light wine like a Pinot Blanc
2 tbsp grated orange rind
2 cups freshly-squeezed orange juice
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut into four pieces
Wash pears and peel leaving the core and stem intact. Immerse in ascorbic acid water (I used Fruitfresh) to keep the pears from turning brown.
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the wine, orange rind, juice and sugar. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, add vanilla pieces and gently boil for 5 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, ease pears gently into the syrup. Cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, gently rolling pears over a couple of times. Pears should not be soft but should show some resistance. Remove saucepan from heat and let cool.
Pack 6 pears and 1 piece of vanilla bean into a freezer bag and cover with 2 cups of syrup. Squeeze out air, seal and place on a baking sheet so pears remain in a single layer in the bag. Freeze. Remove from baking sheets once frozen hard.
This traditional gingerbread fills the kitchen with its spices. It freezes well if wrapped and sealed in an airtight bag.
2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup applesauce
1 farm-fresh egg (from your own chickens if you have them!)
1/2 cup softened butter
Pre-heat oven to 350F and butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.
In the bowl of a mixer, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt.
In another bowl, combine molasses, hot water and applesauce. Using mixer on low speed, pour molasses mixture into the dry ingredients all at once and beat. Add egg and butter and beat until combined. Increase speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in pre-heated for 55 minutes to one hour, or until toothpick inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes, remove from pan and serve with a vanilla Naramata pear in orange wine syrup and a dollop of whip cream.
I won a golden ticket to spend the day with owner, founder and Chocolatier Heather Michelle Wilson at the Naramata Chocolate Factory, enveloped in the aromas of warm tempering dark chocolate and raspberry brownies and toffee macadamia nut cookies baking in the oven.
Within five minutes of my arrival, disaster, a tray of truffles awaiting filling slipped off the counter and onto her commercial kitchen’s beautifully clean floor. Always helpful, I gathered chocolate for disposal and it took every ounce of self-discipline I possessed not to take a page out of Lucy’s most famous scene and stuff the broken bits into my mouth. Heather, seeing my pained look, laughed and offered me a just-made truffle from a box. There is nothing better than a new friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.
At a crossroad in her life in Australia last year while on a wine touring holiday, a friend suggested, “You should open a nougat factory.” She replied, “What is that… nouga? He didn’t pronounce the “t” in his Aussie accent. Oh you mean that stuff that goes in Toblerone? Maybe Australians like to eat nougat but nobody wants that. If I were to open a factory it would be a chocolate factory. My life is already devoted to chocolate. I may as well learn how to make it.” Heather was working in the wine industry at the time and was ready to take her business degree and sales acumen and start her own project. When lightening strikes, Heather doesn’t hesitate. She threw herself into studying chocolate making in Melbourne under a prestigious chocolatier and came home and launched her ethical, local, artisan chocolate business and we are all the happier for it.
What the heck is it with people and chocolate?
It’s a thing alright. Here is a crazy fact. Every 10 years or so a typical adult eats their own body weight in chocolate. My husband is not typical. He is on a five-year cycle and it looks like I will be soon catching up to him with my Naramata Chocolate Factory discovery.
There is actually a boat load of chocolate science that has to do with Dr. Feel-Good chemicals the cacao bean contains such as anandamide (similar to anandamide THC). There is also lots of anecdotal evidence that chocoholics live longer. I believe it. Take Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 and ate two pounds of chocolate a week. Scientists and Heather are also saying that chocolate is good for you. It comes from a plant for starters. A British Medical Journal published review found that the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 per cent reduction in stroke.
Why artisan chocolate?
If you are going to eat chocolate, eat great chocolate. Mass-produced chocolate in all those chocolate bars at the store like many convenience foods today are full of preservatives, high in sugar and a lot of mystery ingredients such as wax. Heather’s creations are made with the highest quality Belgian chocolate that is certified as ethically sourced and filled with wonderful local ingredients like our raspberries. She avoids plastic packaging and sells her chocolate in cute recycled paper containers and paper bags.
Heather is also making vegan and gluten-free products to cater to these growing markets.
Heather hit the ground running and is now working at 100 per cent capacity with the help of her new assistant manager and cookie baker Deb Staples and several part-time helpers. Her delicious treats can now be found at the Naramata, Penticton and Summerland farmer’s markets, through partnerships with wineries such as Origin which sell her Cherry Noir confection that is a cherry and red wine chocolate made with Origins’ Pinot Noir and at Mile Zero Wine Bar. More winery and restaurant partnerships are in the works as are online sales through her website naramatachocolate.com as well as a subscription box.
“I am a product of a long tradition of makers in my family,” says Heather. My grandparents grew and canned much of what they ate. I love this tradition and feel strongly about shopping local, making things ourselves and I place a lot of value on the art of making something by hand.”
She combines her life-long love affair with chocolate with a pragmatic side that includes her Ontario business degree (where she spent all her free time experimenting with vegan baking, protein-packed baking and just plain old-fashioned tasty baking) and career experience in books and wine sales.
“I am having the most fun,” she says. “I really like seeing results and I love talking to people. How rewarding is it to hear, ‘That is the best brownie I’ve ever had in my entire life,’ which I’ve heard more than once from market customers?”
This cake is a sunny little gem to serve on a hot summer day. It’s dressed up for a party with candied lemon, a rich buttercream flecked with vanilla bean and the surprise of a hit of flavour in the black tea buttercream filling. I’ll have an iced black tea with lemon and lots of ice in a frosty glass to go with it please.
There are five steps to making this triple layer six-inch cake: candied lemons, lemon butter cake, Swiss meringue buttercream, black tea buttercream and vanilla bean buttercream.
Candied lemon ingredients
2 lemons, thinly sliced and seeded
1 1/2 cup sugar
Prepare an ice bath and set it aside.
Place 1 1/2 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Blanch the lemon slices in the boiling water for about a minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice bath.
Reduce the heat to bring the water to a simmer. Add the sugar and stir to dissolved. Return the blanched lemons to the pan and simmer for about 30 minutes. Place the lemons on a wire rack to drain. Let them dry completely on a piece of parchment pater for 2 to 4 hours, or overnight.
Lemon butter cake ingredients
2 1/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup room temperature unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks (thanks to my chickens!)
1 cup buttermilk
Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour three 6-inch cake pans and set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
Place the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl and rub them together with your fingers until fragrant.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar mixture and mix on medium-high until the butter is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time. Scrape the bowl.
Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds after the last bits of flour are incorporated.
Evenly divide batter among the three pans and bake for 22 to 24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Let them cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing from the pans.
Black tea infusion
1/2 cup granulated sugar
5 black tea bags
Place one cup of water and the sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and add the tea bags. Simmer for about 8 minutes. Remove the tea bags and continue to cook until the syrup has reduced to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. You will be adding 3 tablespoons of this infusion to some Swiss meringue buttercream to make the filling.
Vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons egg whites
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 cups unsalted butter (very important that it be at room temperature or it won’t combine properly) cubed
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer. Whisk them together by hand to combine. Make a double boiler by filling a medium pot filled with water over medium-high heat. Place the mixer bowl on top of the pot. The bottom of the pot should not touch the water.
Whisk intermittently and heat the egg mixture to 160F (candy thermometer) or until it is hot to the touch. Carefully fit the mixer bowl onto the stand mixer and whip with the wire attachment on high speed for 8 to 10 minutes, until it holds medium-stiff peaks. The bowl should be back to room temperature at this point. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle.
With the mixer on low, add the cubed butter, a few tablespoons at a time then the vanilla. Once incorporated, turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is silky smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.
Black tea buttercream
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream until silky smooth. Add 3 tablespoons of the black tea infusion and mix until combined. Transfer to a separate bowl and set aside. Wipe out the mixer bowl.
Vanilla bean buttercream
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the remaining Swiss meringue buttercream with 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste.
Some assembly required
Level your cakes and choose a layer for the bottom. Spread on half of the black tea buttercream with an offset spatula. Top with the next layer of cake and repeat with the remainder of the black tea buttercream, ending with the third layer. Frost the cake with the vanilla bean buttercream and decorate with candied lemons.
Oh yes, there is a dark side to all those uber-fit, uber-green Amsterdammers and their bikes. With more a million bikes in the city, more than one per person, bike theft is a big deal. Every year more than 54,000 bikes are stolen and the canals are dredged regularly to haul more than 15,000 bikes back to dry land.
Arguably a small price to pay for this environmentally-friendly and healthy mode of transportation? For sure.
The real dark side is the danger they present to the pedestrian tourist.
In Amsterdam, over 60% of trips are made by bike in the inner city and 40% of trips are made by bike overall in the greater city area. These trips are made by busy Amsterdammers on their way to work after dropping off their children at day care while talking on phones, talking to other cyclists, balancing groceries, briefcases and all manner of things and looking impossibly stylish while doing so.
As is common in Dutch cities, Amsterdam has a wide net of traffic-calmed streets and world-class facilities for cyclists. All around are bike paths and bike racks and several guarded bike parking stations crammed with more bikes than you can imagine (Fietsenstalling) which can be used for a nominal fee.
Amsterdam’s small size, the 400 km of bike paths, the flat terrain, and the arguable inconvenience of driving an automobile: driving a car is discouraged, parking fees are expensive, and many streets are closed to cars or are one-way for motor vehicle traffic (but not for cyclists, note to pedestrians). Amsterdam’s bike paths (Fietspad) are red in colour, in order to differentiate them from both the road ways and footpaths.
Fresh-off the plane visitors to Amsterdam must quickly learn to stay out of the Fietspads and to look all ways before navigating across streets. Amsterdammers just want to do their thing, get to work, buy tulips, go to the bar for an Amstel, eat waffles, look amazingly well-dressed and so Euro and not have to cope with the many, many, many visitors and their lack of bike lane etiquette.
First morning in Amsterdam, everyone is asleep but I need a coffee and it’s bike rush hour. The lovely house we were staying in is near Vondelpark, a popular cycle route into the city and I need to cross one road at the entrance to the park to get to the caffeine. Bikes are streaming by with no break and I wait for my chance to cross and wait and wait and wait. An Amsterdam pedestrian just goes for it and the bikes stop. Too chicken to do the same I wait some more until a sympathetic cyclists stops and motions me across. I won’t even talk about the return trip but the coffee made me less hurried.
Many tourists discover Amsterdam by bike, as it is the typical Dutch way to get around the city but even that takes some guts. To blend in with the bike traffic flow bring your A game.
These guys have mad skills. Picture the tallest, handsomest blond dad you have ever seen riding to work propping up his adorable napping baby’s head with one hand as he deftly navigates a bridge ramp and makes a sharp right.
All disturbing but then there was this cure to the mania (The words Mania and Manic actually originate from Mani and it’s people)…
Less than a five-minute drive from Maina we found the most incredible beach boasting two tavernas whose owners happily delivered cold Greek beers to the beach. We were the only people at this beach which was the most incredible place to swim imaginable. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”, I ask my husband. “Yes, in a magazine.”
The Mani, this relatively unexplored part of Greece consists of 250 sun lit villages and sites with plenty of olive trees and cactuses. It is also about the beaches.
All over the Mani you will find amazing beaches, all of them quiet and unspoiled. An ocean swimmer’s paradise of pebble, rock or sand beaches with crystalline, shallow waters of the bluest of blues.
And, despite the Maniots fearsome and proud heritage and our language barrier, we were greeted with nothing but kindness and warm hospitality.
When you talk of coffeeshops in Amsterdam it’s not about the coffee but the weed. Amsterdam coffeeshops are local legal dispensaries for marijuana, especially in the Red Light District where most of the 250 such shops are located.
I, on the other hand, went in search of the caffeinated fix. This little photo essay about Amsterdam’s Koffiehuis or cafes will give you a little snippet of the experience. Although not particularly known for their great coffee, the Dutch know a thing or two about presentation. The little cups usually accompanied by a treat and a glass of water are served in lovely cafes where you can linger and people watch.